Forty years ago, on September 19-21, 1980, Shannonville Motorsport Park held their first-ever CMA National motorcycle road racing championship round at the former Nelson International Raceway. The fall S.M.P. event was the second and final weekend in the National Championships, and for the first time, a Superbike racer could potentially take the overall title and coveted Number One plate.
At the 1980 National opener in Edmonton in June, George Morin had taken the victory in the Superbike category, with many of his potential adversaries suffering a range of problems and challenges.
At the Alberta Feature race finish, Morin had almost lapped third placed Rueben McMurter, the injured University student from London considered the most likely Superbike contender. Both Morin and McMurter were aboard the most popular street-based racer of the time, a Kawasaki in-line air-cooled four-cylinder 1000 built somewhere between 1973 (Z-1) and 1979 (KZ 1000 Mk II).
Local hero Steve Dick, in his first Superbike National, scored second overall, an incredible effort for the youngster aboard a near-stock Honda CBX1000 six-cylinder – not a machine suited to road racing, except around Speedway Park’s 1.5 mile short course in the hands of Dick!
Most importantly, the other Edmonton categories that could yield an overall National Champion, 250cc and 500cc Expert Grand Prix, suffered an unusual amount of carnage and mechanical failures. Yamaha-mounted local Rob King, a second year Pro in his first national, won 500, while the 250cc division belonged to two-stroke king-of-the era Gary Collins of Barrie, ON. Earlier Collins had retired from the lead of 250 G.P. with ignition issues on his Yamaha TZ250.
So, the Championship headed to the original, four-year-old, seven turn Nelson layout of Shannonville for the September National decider, and the locals were expected to dominate on the tight and twisty layout. Most of the top guns had updated equipment, including Lang Hindle.
Now a famous equipment manufacturer with the rest of his family, Hindle had retired in the late 1970s but returned to action when the Superbike class was announced for Canada in 1979, three years after the American’s confirmed the status and structure of the popular new division. Hindle had raced a variety of large Kawasakis, including Endurance and Modified Production classes in the AMA, and was a master of the original “Zee One.”
Hindle opted to skip Edmonton 1980, instead letting protégé McMurter seek glory while the veteran competed at home at Shannonville in a Quebec-based Brimaco/War-lie event. Hindle won on his bitza-bike now known as the “Lucky Lady.” The same machine had come within a few turns of taking Hindle to victory in the first-ever Superbike race in Canada at Mosport in 1978.
Meanwhile, Morin had been busy refining his Kawasaki, purchased as a partly finished project from an American builder in late 1978.
“Between this and that, stuff I got from the builder Tom Bovaird and items I had acquired, I had an amazing accumulation of parts,” explains Morin today. “I didn’t really know what to do with it all. I know, for instance, that I had several different sets of cam shafts.”
Morin had run the early season races at Mosport, Elkhart Lake, Edmonton and Loudon, New Hampshire without a tuner, but a series of coincidences helped his growing program prior to Shannonville.
“I was at least a contender for Shannonville, so that helped me get some more help from here and there,” continues Morin. “I recruited Mike Crompton from Rocket Motorcycles, he was back from his time with American Honda (with Freddie Spencer launching the legendary CB750F program) and between projects. I think he wanted everyone to remember what he was capable of. I had hauled his tools down to Daytona, so that started the conversation.
“Mike had a look at everything I had, what I was using up to that point, and he figured out what could work, he mixed and matched. He really sorted the Kawasaki out; he was instrumental in putting together the combination that could succeed.”
Friday practice was a new thing in this era, but Shannonville, like Edmonton, had a third day, to give non-locals a chance to figure out a new track. This also helped Morin and new tuner Crompton.
“I wasn’t a Shannonville Regional regular, like most of the other guys. So that Friday, my first day on track with Mike, gave us the time we needed – it was a shake down.”
As far as the 1980 Title was concerned, Morin’s memories are concise: “I didn’t think I had a chance in Hell! Gary Collins was the two-stroke guy, and I thought he’d win both races and the crown, but he got taken out by his team-mate! I thought, holy smokes, I really have a chance here!’”
Run in cool and overcast conditions, the Superbike race served as the Feature, so Morin knew the results of previous classes and was well aware he now had a serious shot at the Number One. The challenge was McMurter, third in Edmonton – if he won, and Morin was third, McMurter would get the title on the tiebreaker with the best, most recent placing.
Although upstart round one legend Dick was on-hand, the CBX proved unwieldly, and he was mired mid-field.
Morin was worried about Hindle and McMurter working together, keeping him down in third. At the start, the “other two” Kawasakis took the point, but collided in turn two, Hindle going down.
“I watched the whole thing happen, I couldn’t believe it was happening,” reflect Morin of the fight for first forty years past. “In my mind, I’m thinking, oh no, this is bad. But...wait...wait...oh yeah, that’s good for me!”
McMurter then built a solid lead, while Morin worked to get the second spot that would ensure the Superbike title and number one plate.
“We settled into a fight, I had Dave Park on a Suzuki right in front of me, and my old partner Rob Bartlett right behind on another Suzuki,” continues Morin. “It took me a while to make a pass, I was aware of what could happen from Lang and “Rueb.”
Morin found a safe way past Park, and got the second place needed, behind the dominant McMurter, to seal the deal.
“Even when the chequered flag came out, I didn’t believe I won (the plate),” laughs Morin. “I didn’t even go and pick up the flag!” Over the next winter, the lack of that perfect image annoyed a range of Morin’s happy sponsors.
Following the race on Sunday, September 21, 1980, Morin visited the Track Office and asked to use the telephone, so he could call his family in New Brunswick to let them know he’d taken the title.
“Park rode a tight race, and he was fast,” remembers Morin. “I really had to take the ginger route to get past him, it was tense. Afterwards Park came up and told me,’ I had to keep you honest,’ and he certainly did that!”
There were a number of ironies involving Morin, Park, Kawasaki, Suzuki and all the characters involved at Shannonville in September 1980. The man tuning Park’s GS was Harald Surian, who would build for Norm Murphy with Weld Rite Racing throughout the 1980s, then take Steve Crevier to three number one plates in the early 1990s. Eventually Surian would work with Crompton on the dominant Jordan Szoke-lead Kawasaki teams of the late 2000s.
Morin, meanwhile, had unknowingly finished his successful Kawasaki career.
“I had quite a lot of help from Kawasaki back then, both front and back door,” starts Morin. “But then I didn’t get invited to the dealer Meeting in the fall of 1980, and the number one guy always did that. I knew I was in trouble!
“I decided that, if I had raced for them for five years and I didn’t get the call, it must be Lang, Lang, Lang! The wind changed direction, and they were focused on Hindle. All of a sudden, I needed a job – I got the old heave-ho!
“Yeah, I felt snubbed. I’d done my part, and then I didn’t even get included or mentioned. But I guess it worked out in the end.”
Morin eventually organized a program and took his number one plate to Suzuki Canada, purchasing Park’s GS1000. That lead to success with Suzuki, including the famous Katana program, and then the mid-1980s GSX-Rs with Crompton and former top flat track racer Michel Mercier.
“Defiantly, the switch to the Suzuki program lead to an amazing variety of opportunities,” confirms Morin. “I knew that we could do great things together.
“I had worked out that once you quit, you had two years while people still cared about you. After that, you’re nothing. So, after one year of retirement, I made the deal with some of my sponsors like CAM2 to run Mercier on Suzukis, and that lead to the GSX-R era. We – Michel, Mike and I – really were the Team to beat.”